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3 Takeaways from New Search Quality Rater Guidelines

Over the past couple of months, we’ve checked in on one of the most overlooked aspects of Google’s search engine algorithm: The human search quality raters.

These search quality raters are people paid by Google to perform specific searches and then, as their name would imply, rate the results. While this feedback does not impact the current results, search quality raters provide the data that is critical to future algorithm updates.To help the web get better, Google deliberately leaks what these raters are looking for in a website, providing a crystal ball to predict aspects of future algorithm changes and penalties.

The most recent leak came in July, 2018. It’s 164 pages, though, and no lawyer has time for that. So here are three of the most important takeaways from the Search Quality Rater Guidelines for your law firm’s website and legal blog.

Changes in search quality rater guidelines for lawyers

Google Hates Clickbait

Clickbait refers to the nefarious internet sensation of titling an article with an astounding or shocking claim in order to gain more clicks. Some examples include:

  • Your Car Insurance Company Doesn’t Want You to Know This OneTrick to Lower Your Premiums
  • Is the World About to End? Shocking Signs Say Yes
  • Fool a Breathalyzer With This Breathing Technique

Needless to say, articles like these are rarely able to backup the ridiculous claims in their title. Realizing that this leaves many users unsatisfied, Google has taken explicit aim against clickbait in its most recent iteration of its Search Quality Rater Guidelines: “Exaggerated or shocking titles can entice users to click on pages in search results. If pages do not live up to the exaggerated or shocking title or images, the experience leaves users feeling surprised and confused… Pages with exaggerated or shocking titles that do not describe the MC well should be rated Low.”

Any attorney who has resorted to clickbait to draw readers to their legal blog, therefore, should probably reconsider their tactics because it seems clear that Google is going to take action at some point in the near future.

Reputation of the Content Creator: A Red Herring?

One of the changes to the Search Quality Rater Guidelines that has been getting lots of attention in the SEO world has been an increased interest in the “content creator.” According to Jennifer Slegg, over at The SEM Post, “one of the big changes is that not only are raters looking at the reputation of just the website, raters are tasked with investigating the reputation  of the content creator – such as the author of the article or landing page being rated.” 

Most marketing professionals are worried about this, and are pushing websites to include a substantial “About Us” section to show search quality raters that the people running the site are legitimate. [UPDATE: Google has explained that you don’t have to]

We’re not worried about it because, really, what law firm website doesn’t already loudly proclaim the attorney’s skills, education, and credentials? In the vast majority of cases, this box has already been checked off.

But what if you hire a ghostwriter to create your site’s content? Do you have to disclose their existence? We think not. Google has no way of knowing who’s penning the words your site hosts, and is completely aware that a lot of online content is written on a contractual basis. It seems safe to say that Google knows that it is powerless to find the “true” content creator,and is content with assuming that the lawyers listed on the site are behind the content.

Continued Focus on Users, Not Search Engines

If there is a theme to the new Guidelines, it is that Google wants website owners to focus not on SEO, but on providing quality and helpful content to users. To this end, the Guidelines repeatedly refer to the purpose of a site, and require search quality raters to take it into account when ranking the quality of websites(side note: this falls in line with the recent movement away from traditional SEO signals and towards user intent).

Nowhere is this more apparent than in section 2.2 of the Guidelines,which states that there are three main purposes of a webpage: “Most pages are created to be helpful for users, thus having a beneficial purpose. Some pages are created merely to make money, with little or no effort to help users. Some pages are even created to cause harm to users.”

With such a stark good versus evil dichotomy between the potential purposes of websites, establishing the hierarchy was almost superfluous: “Websites and pages should be created to help users. Websites and pages that are created with intent to harm users, deceive users, or make money with no attempt to help users, should receive the Lowest [Page Quality] rating.”

Of course, all law firm websites exist “merely to make money.” That’s their point—law firm websites are marketing ventures that are designed to attract clients to the firm.However, just because your law firm’s website and blog are designed to be marketing material does not mean that they cannot also be useful to users, as well. It just takes a skilled voice to balance the marketing interests with the need to exist for a beneficial purpose, thereby satisfying the search engine gods with quality content while still encouraging the user to call the number at the bottom of the screen and sign on the line that is dotted.